1) reclaiming and reusing wastewater makes environmental and economic sense when done safely,
2) such resource recovery efforts fall flat without sufficient public support,and
3) the “yuck factor” has to be tackled with good science, strategy, and patience.
An important new study will help boost the wastewater reuse movement and weaken the Yuck! Not-In-My-Water syndrome. In January 2012, the National Academy of Sciences’ Water Science and Technology Board issued “Water Reuse: Potential for Expanding the Nation’s Water Supply Through Reuse of Municipal Wastewater” www.nas.edu (Note: I serve on the Board but was not involved in writing or reviewing the report, although I offered EPA support for the study several years ago when it was first under consideration and I was EPA Assistant Administrator for Water.)
The NAS study analyzes the scientific, technical, legal, cultural, and psychological barriers and risks. It builds the case for more reuse, analyzing real versus perceived health risks, and growing problems with water scarcity in some regions. It claims advanced treatment and reuse of wastewater can boost water supplies of coastal cities by as much as 27%. Along the way, it interjects some phrases worth noting and understanding– such as “sewage farming” (which still occurs abundantly in Mexico City) and “de facto” or unplanned reuse.